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KhaledaZia-SheikhHasinaSorry this article arrived beyond my usual Monday deadline. I had an asthma attack and was feeling pretty weak at the beginning of the week. When that happens, I sometimes write some pretty dumb stuff. That’s what happened. Two crumbled up articles later on, I’m still writing.

When I am confronted with my own mortality, it makes me appreciate the wonderful, delicate patterns of life. Each one of our lives are so similar, yet so infinitely different. When I consider all the possible sources of the opinions I have formed over the course of my life, from experience, from family, from education, from my triumphs and my tragedies, from what I love and what I despise, I am amazed. Seven billion people on the planet, and no two share the same life experiences.

I am amazed that any two people on earth ever actually agree on anything.

I expect disagreement. I thrive on it. In fact, I will often say things to encourage a little controversy in my household. And even when my kids know that my answer to their request will be “no”, the opportunity to communicate is the opportunity to let them see the world from my point of view, and to allow me to delve a bit deeper into their thought process. At the heart of progress is the ability to hear and understand different points of view. And peacemaking, at its core requires people of opposing points of view to sit down together and dialogue.

After all, parties who are battling with words aren’t as likely to injure each other as those who refuse to speak. That’s why, when I read that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had ruled out the possibility of talks with opposition leader Khaleda Zia, I felt disappointment. And what’s worse, she made those declarations in New York, after outlining a peace model for the world.

First off, let’s take a look at the peace model: She called for the eradication of poverty and hunger, mitigation of deprivation, reduction of inequality, acceleration of human development and the elimination of terrorism. Oh, and she did mention one other thing as well…inclusion of excluded people.

And then she refused to talk with her BNP counterpart.

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been following the politics of your country, and I have read a years’ worth of your educated responses to mine and other writings in bdnews24.com. I know that many of you will point out that any such talks would have come to naught, that as the prime minister herself indicated, that most of what Khaleda Zia wishes to discuss concerns her sons. Be that as it may, it just seems to me that Sheikh Hasina would have supported dialogue between opposing parties as part of the peace model were it to have been required in some nation other than Bangladesh. Even if only conducted symbolically, it would have indicated that Sheikh Hasina believes in dialogue, that gentlest practice by which grievances are redressed.

And, exercise in futility though it may be, in this humble outsider’s opinion, I think it also sends a message to other AL members that they needn’t engage in dialogue with their counterparts in the BNP. The party leader sets the example, after all. And where dialogue breaks down, the only form of communication is demonstration, hartal and ongoing political chaos, all of which is so damaging to the nation.

The fact is that democracy requires differences of opinion, and opposition groups aren’t going to disappear, nor should they. Ignoring a chance for a sit-down, simply because the thrust of the conversation is going to concern a mother’s defence of her sons is simply not good strategy.

Perhaps the issues surrounding the charges against Khaleda Zia’s sons are immutable, but if it gets the opposition leader to talk, even if it is just to say “no” face to face, even some hint of sympathy, maybe a modicum of empathy for a mother who, within the year, has lost her home and has sons in deep trouble wouldn’t be out of order?

Both parties must understand that opposition does not evaporate just because one or the other is elected to power, and that compromise is the usual business of a democratic government. The BNP has at its fingertips the power to disrupt progress. At issue is the fear that the AL is controlling the electoral process to the point that they are attempting to assure their own victory. Whether or not their fear is unfounded is a moot point. The perception of fairness in the next election will determine the level of cooperation. If the opposition does not perceive that it lost fair and square, and that its opinions and ideas would be considered in the new government, then political divisions will only grow deeper.

Bangladesh is poised on the brink of a golden age. In the reams of articles and the number of people with whom I’ve spoken over the last year, the consensus is that a level of hope and promise is palpable.

To be able to engage in dialog, one must be willing to listen.

Steven Hopkins, one of our Founding Fathers, upon entertaining a vote to debate the question of American Independence, when the vote stood even, commented, “I have yet to encounter an issue that was so dangerous that it couldn’t be discussed. I’m for debating anything!” The modern perception that to consent to debate and discussion means weakness is a sad reflection on our inability to get along.

I know that this week, between wheezing and clearing my throat, I will spend some time engaged in political disagreements, both great and small. I will spend an equal amount of time listening to, and even sometimes dismissing the opinions of others. That’s democracy.

I hope that our leaders, both here in the US and there in Bangladesh, never forget that the most sacred duty of statesmen is not so much to promote their own agenda, but to defend the right of those who oppose them, to be heard.

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Frank Domenico Cipriani writes a weekly column in the Riverside Signal called “You Think What You Think And I’ll Think What I Know.” He is also the founder and CEO of The Gatherer Institute — a not-for-profit public charity dedicated to promoting respect for the promoting respect for the environment and empowering individuals to become self-taught and self-sufficient. His most recent book, “Learning Little Hawk’s Way of Storytelling”, teaches the native art of oral tradition storytelling.

15 Responses to “To be heard”

  1. Robert Imam

    I understand this concept. I feel that by refusing a possibility of discussion and her supporting statements, along with her party moves, they are painting a picture of BNP in everyone’s minds. The ones in power are never on trial and so it is now BNP’s turn to be on trial and as a political party, they’ve been digging their own drenches for a while – by just denying their faults and not setting up proper democratic practices within the party itself. Had they done that, they would’ve had proper grounds to stand up to being a worthy opposition. “Denial” has been the chosen weapon here for decades, and when certain human traits leaning towards honesty are greatly lacking, then dialogue when it happens is farcical.

    • Frank D. Cipriani

      That is true. But if the BNP were to win, as I think you are asserting, then the exact same situation would happen again, in reverse. And while both sides jockey for position, the people are unserved. Isn’t there an African saying that goes, “When elephants fight, the grass suffers”?

  2. Golam Arshad

    Frank: You are damn right my friend! A tactical gain but a strategic mistake. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, hems out of a “Dialogue” and she nimble in a static wilderness. Not a good sign!

    Good job Frank.

  3. Mr. Kabir

    I deeply feel the absence of a politician who can do politics with both of the wicked parties. Unless they have a common enemy there is no way that they will sit or seriously discuss something together.

  4. Syed Imtiaz Ali

    Here is a wonderful treatise/lesson on democratic practices in its microcosm. Thank you Frank, for the serene, yet strong enough piece as eye-opening as it could possibly be. We have been tutored that holding an election, by fair means or foul, is what democracy is all about! Perhaps nothing beyond that. It is scary!

    Your ‘far-fetched’ reflections are indeed far-fetched and beyond our comprehension! It is disappointing to see how vulnerable we are in resolving issues. No issue is too difficult if and when the goal is clear. We hope we can ‘school’ ourselves to a democratic society in the not too distant future. As we are still slowly evolving.

    And please do get well soon!

    • Frank D. Cipriani

      I could not agree with you more. You speak the whole truth when you say that no issue is too difficult if and when the goal is clear.

      Where are the safe roads?
      Where is flood mitigation?

      Let’s start there, with the more neutral issues, and then work towards the more politically charged ones.

      And the best days of Bangladesh are still ahead of her. I think the “Bangladeshi Spring” will come when the people demand an end to government by family feud. It seems like every Bangladeshi I’ve met is reasonable. In a country with such clear thinkers, why elect such intransigent figures?

      Thank you for the wishes. I am feeling better now. Autumn here is just my asthma season. I thank God that this is the worst of my physical problems.

      • Syed Imtiaz Ali

        Dear Frank,
        Will you please enlighten us about ‘student politics’ as we know in this part of the world, if this aspect is so prominent and pronounced in other democracies? If so, how do they pursue their studies and personal and intellectual growth?

        I do not see how our students can fulfil the demands of their courses if they are so politicised – from head to toe!

        How is the scene elsewhere? Are the teachers also party to it? Please let us have a different view of a different world. Thank you.

  5. russel

    Dear Mr. Frank,
    It is very risky to talk about Bangladeshi politics. You may be victim of controversy:)

    • Frank D. Cipriani

      Thank you, Russel. Controversy is an occupational hazard for a writer. The more controversial, the more we are read. I would love to have a chance to interview some of your politicians. If I interviewed both sides, I would most assuredly end up unpopular- probably with both sides, but I would welcome the opportunity.

    • Frank D. Cipriani

      I have often maintained that the difference between a politician and a statesman is that a statesman will ask “What’s best for my country?” and a politician will ask, “What’s best for me?”

      When he dies, the statesman has left an inheritance for the whole nation. When a politician dies, if he leaves an inheritance, it is usually in a Swiss bank account.

      You all are the statesmen of Bangladesh. It’s time to take the reins!

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